Why Join a Trade Union?

  • September 07, 2010 11:13
  • Katy Scholes

How was your journey into work today? It may seem that TUs only exist to make our daily commutes a nightmare but in their new book Why Join a Trade Union?, journalists Jo Phillips and David Seymour discuss the merits and otherwise of being a member of a union.

Trade unions: the Labour Party was built on them; Margaret Thatcher set out to destroy them and they made us late for work today. So who really needs them?

The answer is quite simply, anyone who goes to work and who cares about pay and conditions, equal rights, safety and training (or so the trades unions themselves would tell you). Others may call them wreckers and bullies who just want a fight with the bosses, but in a world of portfolio jobs and economic austerity, will people need unions even more for protection or have they had their day along with sheepskin coats and picket lines?

Why Join A Trade Union? is positive, light-hearted and comes just in time.”
Hugh Lanning, Deputy General Secretary PCS

“Bang on, and the jokes aren’t bad either.”
Charlie Whelan

Why Join a Trade Union? is available from the Biteback website, priced £6.99


How and why were we led to war in Iraq? Brian Jones discusses at RUSI

  • September 06, 2010 15:33
  • Katy Scholes

Last week Dr Brian Jones, author of Failing Intelligence and former Head of the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Section in the Defence Intelligence Staff, featured at an event at the Royal United Services Institute. He discussed how and why Tony Blair and George W Bush, using distorted and exaggerated intelligence, persuaded their legislatures and their electorates that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and was therefore a threat.

To watch the talk, please click here.

Failing Intelligence is available to buy from the Biteback website, priced £9.99


Is coalition government the end of spin?

  • September 06, 2010 11:12
  • Katy Scholes

By Nicholas Jones

David Cameron’s relationship with the news media sparked a lively discussion between the blogger and broadcaster Iain Dale and Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister, when they debated the issue at a meeting hosted by the National Union of Journalists.

‘Is coalition government the end of spin?’ was the question they had to address. Both agreed that effective political public relations was here to stay and they considered the successful presentation of the new government was due in large part to the way Conservative and Liberal Democrat spin doctors had put their political differences aside and had spent the first few months of the new administration working together.

Jones pointed to Cameron’s success in winning the backing of the Murdoch press and the all-important support of the Sun but Dale said the Prime Minister’s far greater achievement was to have won power without conceding too much to the agenda of either the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspaper groups, both of which had a fraught and fractious relationship with Cameron and his cabinet colleagues.

Dale said Andy Coulson, the Conservatives’ media chief who had become the new director of communications in Downing Street, had insisted from the start that Tory and Liberal Democrat spin doctors had to work together to limit the risk of counter briefings and talk of splits; Cameron had warned the coalition’s special advisers they would be sacked if they briefed journalists anonymously to attack each other.<!--more-->

‘Part of the remit of Labour’s special advisers was always to do the bidding of Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson,’ said Dale. ‘And, I am a little sceptical as to whether the line drawn by Cameron and Coulson will hold and whether we will be saying the same thing in two years time.

‘Political journalists are behind the curve on understanding how the coalition is working. All political correspondents are looking for is splits and what they don’t get is that inter-personal relations between coalition ministers are good’.

Jones said it was the tribal loyalties of the Blairite and Brownite spin doctors which had proved such a divisive force for New Labour and it did seem, at least for the moment, that Cameron and Nick Clegg had broken the mould of political public relations.

But if there was any evidence that journalists were being fed with anonymous quotes attacking one side or the other it would be the first sign of a real fault line in the coalition and once a hostile briefing war began, Cameron and Clegg would soon find they were being threatened by instability from within as had been the case under both the Blair and Brown Premierships.

The debate was organised by the freelance and press and public relations branches of the NUJ (1.9.2010)

Campaign 2010 is available to buy from the Biteback website, priced £9.99.


The Harlow panel give their verdict

  • September 03, 2010 09:48
  • Katy Scholes

Deborah Mattinson, Britain's leading pollster and author of Talking to a Brick Wall, revisits the Harlow focus group for their verdict on the coalition government so far...

Talking to a Brick Wall tells the story of the New Labour years from the voters’ viewpoint.

Writing the final chapters during the 2010 election campaign, I set up a panel of swing voters in Harlow, Britain’s fifth most marginal seat. It was made up of people with consistent records of voting Labour (’97, ’01, even ’05) who were now undecided. They were the voters who would determine the election outcome. In the end, their own vote perfectly matched the result, with almost all switching to the Conservatives or Lib Dems.

My last panel session for Talking to a Brick Wall took place just after the Cameron/Clegg double act in the No. 10 Rose Garden. It received a warm reception:

Hopefully a fresh start for the whole country

In the last week of August I brought panel members together again to learn their verdict on the coalition so far. Had their expectations – so high in those honeymoon days – been met?<!--more-->

The focus group were impressed by the flurry of activity that had swept the nation since May. Yet, while some specifics (clampdown on benefit cheats, cutting civil service bureaucracy) were applauded, that early praise was muted.

Overall, it seemed that the coalition’s aim, beyond cutting the deficit, was unclear:

I’m confused about where this is all heading

You’d have thought all the cuts would give a clear direction but I’m just not sure

There was also an underlying anxiety, triggered by announcements about the VAT increase and ending the winter fuel allowance, that the coalition would not, as originally promised, look after ‘ordinary people’ and the less well off.

This was partly driven by perceptions of Cameron himself:

He looks like he’s enjoying this all a bit too much

He’s not in touch with ordinary people. He comes from a privileged background and doesn’t know what it’s like for ordinary people

And partly because the expected brake that the Lib Dem presence was expected to provide had not yet materialised:

Clegg has sold out

He’s a yes man – Cameron’s puppy dog

There were also worries about whether the economic strategy was the right one or whether it would provoke a ‘double dip’ recession. Concern was voiced about job losses and falling house prices.

We’re three months in – towards the end of the public opinion bounce that most new governments enjoy. All that hope is still relatively fresh in people’s minds, while Labour’s ability to provide effective opposition is clearly compromised by the leadership contest.

Right now, the Harlow panel jury is out, but they are already sending powerful warning signals that the government will ignore at its peril.

I shall be visiting Harlow regularly to monitor the voters’ verdict – watch this space.

Talking to a Brick Wall is available to buy from the Biteback website, priced £17.99


Brought to Book: David Torrance

  • September 02, 2010 11:12
  • Katy Scholes

This week author of Noel Skelton and the Property-Owning Democracy David Torrance gets Brought to Book.

What is your favourite book?
I’ve always been suspicious of people who point definitively to a favourite book (how can they be so sure?), but my favourite genre is certainly literary biography. Two, if I may, stand out: Nicholas Shakespeare’s near-perfect account of Bruce Chatwin’s eclectic career and Andrew Motion’s biography of Philip Larkin. Oddly enough, I don’t read much fiction or poetry but devour their official lives.

As a child, what was your favourite book?
The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford, which I bought second hand and read several times. No child with an imagination could fail to be charmed by the story and its gentle humour. <!--more-->

What book would you take on holiday this year?
I’m on holiday at the moment so have brought a stack of books. F. S. L. Lyons’ 1977 biography of Charles Stewart Parnell was superb and very pertinent (a politician brought down by a sexual scandal), while two books about North Korea – Bradley K. Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty and Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea were excellent primers for a fascinating week in the DPRK (the books, unlike me, weren’t allowed in).

Do you have a favourite political book/biography?
I still think Jonathan Aitken’s biography of Richard Nixon is one of the finest political books I’ve read, and all the more fascinating in that Aitken failed to learn lessons from his subject when it came to his own political career. The late Bernard Crick’s biography of George Orwell is also an intimidatingly good account of a hugely important figure and his contribution to the related arenas of politics and journalism.

Which book published in the last ten years do you think is the most significant?
Probably Never Had it So Good 1956-63: A History of Britain from Suez to the “Beatles” - Britain in the Sixties by Dominic Sandbrook. Published in 2005, this nudged narrative history in a new direction, combining high politics with everyday life to provide a compelling account of 1950s Britain. Sandbrook also wrote this when he was in his early 30s, which makes me more than a little jealous.

Which literary character would you most like to be and why?
Probably Richard Hannay from the novels of John Buchan. He was a bit of a cad, unlike me.

Noel Skelton and the Property-Owning Democracy is available to buy from the Biteback website.